Late last year, the Nissin company – makers of Cup Noodles and many other instant noodle products – decided to start shaking up its advertising. Its most successful campaign enlisted the help of popular actress Aragaki Yui (“Gakkii”) on behalf of one of its most successful products, Chicken Ramen. Gakkii, playing the part of a Youtuber named “Yuichiki”, pushes a novel way to enjoy the product: throw out the hot water and eat it directly from the packet.
Today, I’m making zero-second chicken ramen. [Caption: The Water’s Boiled] So, let’s begin. Aaaand..START! ZERO! Okay, DONE!! I’m not using hot water. I’ll eat it just like this from the bag! Mmmm! Zero-second chicken ramen is seriously good!
My initial reaction was, “Ha! Too funny!! What IDIOT would eat raw ramen?!” But when I showed the commercial to my Tokyo-born wife, she said, “Oh, that looks good!” By her account, it resembles a ramen-style snack she’d buy from the local candy store as a kid. Other opinions online vary, with some people saying it’s “too salty” for their tastes, while others say they’ve been eating it that way for years, usually accompanied by plenty of booze.
Whether you enjoy eating hard noodles or not, the advertising campaign was a clear winner for Nissin, which in the past couple of years has sought to shake up a market that’s on the decline.
The Nissin company is the progenitor of the instant ramen concept: the first product was invented by founder Andou Momofuku in 1958. Since then, the concept has spread like wildfire around the world. (Try and find an American college student who didn’t survive four years of school on some configuration of pasta and Nissin’s Top Ramen.) But the industry has his a bit of a snag, with sales in various counties throughout Asia taking a dip. As Mainichi Shinbun relates, sales in China dropped by about 20% over a three-year period. Part of the reason is health: young people are coming to the obvious conclusion that a pile of dried carbohydrates accompanied by an artificial flavor packet just may not be the best thing to put in their bodies. The rise of food delivery services has also dug into profits, as it’s become easier for people throughout Asia to have healthier options delivered to their door. For example, pho delivery services in Hanoi and other cities in Vietnam have led to decreased instant noodles sales there.
In Japan, however, noodle companies have been able to counter their unhealthy image by reducing salt content, adding more fibrous noodles, and adjusting their marketing pitches. Nissin itself managed to create two back-to-back hits with Cup Noodle Light and Cup Noodle Nice, both of which boosted fiber content while reducing calorie count. Such changes have led Japan to buck the regional decline, resulting in an increase in sales in the island nation.
Part of that upward trend is due to Nissin’s willingness to find more interesting ways to market their products. Take Chicken Ramen, which has been a Nissin staple for 60 years. For most of that history, Nissin didn’t dare touch its flagship product. However, in 2003, the company saw its sales peak to an all-time high when it made a simple addition: adding a whole to the center of the noodle grid to cradle a raw egg, which would steam and cook slightly after hot water was added. The ability to easily add an egg in was not only novel, but increased the feeling that one was eating real ramen from a ramen shop, and not just a packaged product pulled from the shelves.
Recently, as Nikkei Trendy! reports, when the product hits its 60th anniversary, officials at Nissin looked again at Chicken Ramen, and decided they’d been too timid:
Recently, we’d sped up the development of unique communications around “Cup Noodle” and “Donbei“, but we noticed that we’d been only using orthodox communication styles for Chicken Ramen. It’s likely that, because it’s our established brand, and it includes so much of the founder’s thinking, we unconsciously couldn’t broach the subject. So, with the occasion of its 60th anniversary, we decided to switch it up.
“Switching it up” included enlisting long-time spokesperson Aragaki in the “Zero-second chicken ramen” campaign, as well as an absurdist, airplane-style “safety video” on the use of eggs with such safety tips as, “Don’t use anything other than an egg”, “Please don’t suck on the eggs in the bathroom”, and “breaking the egg on someone else’s head is forbidden.”
Personally, I haven’t eaten instant noodles since college. It’s a negative stimulus: they remind me of those times I only had $30 to buy groceries for an entire week. But I’d like to see them stick around out of pure nostalgia – and so I can see exactly how well Zero-Second Chicken Ramen and a whiskey highball go together.